Jan 30

Virtual “Makkah” and Al Andalus in Second Life

We are in week 3 of our Teaching Languages in a Virtual World seesion, which is all about real life places in Second Life and how these can be exploited for learning or practising languages or teaching them.

“Makkah”

We started out in what I call Virtual “Makkah”, which has a replica of Masjid Al-Haram including the Ka’bah, the most sacred place on earth for Muslims. I explained the objectives for this place in SL, which in short are:

  • Hajj training for Muslims (non-Muslims always welcome to participate)
  • Providing information for Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam
  • Interfaith and inter-cultural events (e.g. the Ramadan events, discussions, lectures)
  • Lessons (English, Arabic,…)
  • Meeting place for Muslims and non-Muslims

Here is the recording of the tour:

Tour of Virtual “Makkah” in Second Life from NergizK on Vimeo.

This is one of the educational places in SL, which really uses the strength of a 3D virtual world. The alternatives would be to learn the hajj  rituals by reading a book with text and illustrations or by attending a presentation with a speaker showing slides. Here, those who want to learn about the hajj and how and when to do certain rituals, they have to actually do it, which is for most people much more memorable than simply reading or hearing or even watching a video about it.

Here are some pictures of the real Makkah.

Al Andalus

This is one of the mostbeautiful places I have come across in Second Life, a replica of the 13th century Alhambra in Spain. It has also a very vibrant intercultural, interfaith community. They are trying to bring back to life how it was when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in relative harmony. There is a church, a mosque and a synagogue, a market, and residential areas that can be rented. They also participate in intercultural or interfaith dialogues and organize events, some of which are educational (e.g. lectures) and some more entertaining (e.g. competition and games). It’s a great place if one wants to be part of a community.

Here you can take a Virtual Walking Tour of the real Alhambra in Al Andalus.

And here are some lovely photographs of the Alhambra.

And this is a video of a project by Dancing Ink Productions called Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds which shows virtual “Makkah” and Al Andalus and provides some more information about the places.

Language Learning

Now, how can these places be used for language learning or teaching?

Learners, who want to practise their language skills and are interested in religion, history, intercultural events, etc. can join the communities, both of which are very active. The main language is English, but there are many Arabic and French speakers, too.

In a language course, students can prepare a tour for their peers and teacher. These can be short tours or longer ones prepared by a group of students. It can be extended to a project, where they have to collect information from different sources, interview people, compare the places to RL, etc. and then give a “presentation”, which in this case would be a tour of the place.

Different groups of learners from different countries and cultures can be brought together to show each other places related to their culture or country and discuss differences and similarities to foster understanding and practise language skills at the same time.

Over to you:
Do you have more ideas? Have you used real life places in SL for teaching or practising a language? Would you like to describe how you used it or would use it? Would you use it in a face-to-face class or only with distance learners? Why so?

Leave a comment, please.

Mar 17

Intercultural meeting in SL

One of the many ways that Second Life can be used for learning and teaching languages and maybe one of the most authentic ways of learning and practising the target language are intercultural meetings. An English teacher from Dubai and a Second Life colleague of mine, Chris Surridge, from Korea have recognised SL’s potential for this very early and came up with a wonderful intercultural project that culminated in a Second Life meeting of their students. Chris repeated this project and linked his students with other cultures after the first successful meeting.

A couple of weeks ago, the topic of Muslim women in SL came up in the SLED list. Somebody was interested in how Muslim women from more traditional cultures were using SL and how their SL lives might reflect back into their RL lives and vice versa. I had several English students from the Middle East in my SL course and know some others from the Muslim community in SL, so I replied to the request. Several other educators who read this message contacted me to ask whether they and their students could meet me and other Muslim women in SL to talk about their lives and career choices and how similar or different they are in SL and in RL, what Islam means to them and why they wear hijab (the Muslim headscarf) in RL and/or in SL. I thought this was a great opportunity for my former students to practise their English with an authentic task and a topic that I knew would interest them. So, I asked and they agreed to meet with the educators and their students.

SL meeting 16 March 2009_001
The first of these meetings with a professor at a university in the US and her Spirituality and Human Behaviour students took place today. Unfortunately, none of her students logged in with their avatars but the professor’s screen was projected so that all students could follow the conversation and ask questions through their professor. There were around 6 Muslim women from the US, Egypt, Syria, UAE and Qatar, and I, of course 🙂 We also had a lady who was not Muslim but dressed like one because she was interested in Islam and a lady from France who was also not a Muslim but belonged to the same Muslim community (Ummah of Noor) which is open for everybody to join. The meeting took place on the Islamonline dot net SIM which shows a replica of the Al-Haram and the Ka’bah in Makkah, the holiest place for Muslims. The meeting officially lasted one hour and the conversation was extremely lively.

SL meeting 16 March 2009_003
Although, this was more an ad hoc, one-off meeting and we had no opportunity to meet the students from the US and have deeper discussions (it was more a Q&A session), the students watched and “listened” very intently (according to the professor) and the Muslim ladies replied to the questions in length and with much enthusiasm. It’s a shame that the discussion board where the US students will continue to discuss this topic is closed to the public and we cannot participate.

With a little bit of preparation and more time, these kinds of meetings can be transferred into real learning opportunities for both sides which go way beyond learning for a subject. How much more authentic can learning become? This is where technology does not get into the way of communication but makes it possible. How else could a group of students from the US have met Muslim women from so many different countries so easily to learn first hand about the lives of these women?

Dec 15

St. Catherine Monastery in Second Life in danger!

This post is a bit unusual for my blog because it is not related to teaching languages in Second Life but it is definitely related to education in SL. So, please, bear with me and read the rest. My hope in writing this post is to raise awareness of what the St. Catherine Monastery in Real Life stands for, why it should remain in SL and hopefully to find a new home for it in SL.

Pictures taken by Patricia F. Anderson

Some weeks ago, Marlyn Tadros, who built the SL version of St. Catherine Monastery, told us on the SLED list that the Monastery will disappear because of the costs involved in keeping it up. Although there has been some interest, unfortunately, no new home has been found for it so far. Personally, I think it would be extremely sad if the Monastery disappeared because of its huge historic and current relevance.

So, what’s so special about this Monastery and why is it important for it to remain in Second Life? The Monastery is one of the greatest examples of religious tolerance and peace and we need such examples more than ever today. Please read this article about the history and the importance of the Monastery. 

But why the fuss about the SL version? Because not everybody can go to the Sinai and visit the real one but everybody who has broadband Internet can access Second Life and visit it there. It’s been replicated beautifully and I especially like the library and of course Prophet Mohammad’s letter of protection that has ensured its existence in Real Life to date.

I was planning to take my SL students there when talking about peace and tolerance in our English lessons and was also hoping to visit it during inter-faith dialogues I am planning to hold with a church that is now active in SL. 

You can find the St. Catherine Monastery in SL here until the end of 2008.

If you know somebody that might be interested in giving the Monastery a new home in SL, leave a comment here or contact me and I will pass it on to Marlyn Tadros.